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Country Music





Bluegrass music came from mountain music, hillbilly music, southern string bands, and back to the old folk ballads.  But it also includes influences from work songs, blues and jazz.  While some forms of country music were coming very close to current "pop" styles, bluegrass was closer to country roots.  Bluegrass can actually be traced to a single person - Bill Monroe.

The term "bluegrass" music happened this way:

  • Kentucky is known as "The Bluegrass State" because this type of pasture grass is so plentiful there

  • Bill Monroe, a Kentucky native, named his group "The Blue Grass Boys" after his home state

  • The kind of music they played had a unique style at the time, so the disc jockeys, promoters, fans and general public came to refer to the style as "bluegrass music"

You can't talk about bluegrass without beginning with Bill Monroe.



Bill Monroe (1911-1996)

The Father of Bluegrass Music

He wanted to create a new sound

What sets bluegrass music  apart:


breakneck speed (can't dance to it!)

solos and improvisation (taking turns like jazz musicians)

virtuosic skill

high-pitched straight tone vocals

standard instrumentation:  fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass







Some later groups also included a Dobro guitar.


When Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined The Blue Grass Boys, the style really took off in the late 40's, in large part due to Scruggs' unique method of playing the banjo.

The old way was called "clawhammer."  Scruggs played a "three finger picking" style.

Clawhammer Banjo playing  watch


"Foggy Mountain Breakdown"  watch

You'll see the "three finger picking" style here.


Did you know that Steve Martin plays the banjo??   Well excu-u-u-u-u-use me!

Steve Martin on the banjo:  watch

Who else do you think listened to early bluegrass?

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" #1   listen

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" #2   listen


Bluegrass Boys



Bill Monroe and

The Blue Grass Boys first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.


In 1945, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs became part of the group.


The Blue Grass BoysLester Flatt and Earl Scruggs


"Foggy Mountain Breakdown"  listen

This is the version that will be on your test

"Earl's Breakdown"  listen

No, he didn't need Prozac!!  A breakdown is an instrumental interlude and in bluegrass, a chance for the soloists to show off.

There is an analysis of "Earl's Breakdown" in your textbook.  Read that again and make sure you understand what he is doing in this recording.  You'll need to understand the technique in order to recognize the audio clip on the test.

Here's another example of the technique on a tune called "Randy Lynn Rag".   Watch the performer turn the pegs.  He  plays the tune slowly after the first time so it's easier to see how it's done.  watch ("Randy Lynn Rag")


Bluegrass continues today in the old style and in a newer sound called



Nickel Creek

Ode to a Butterfly  listen

Ricky Skaggs


Alison Krauss and Union Station  watch ("My Poor Old Heart")

BTW, Alison Krauss has the distinction of being THE most honored female singer in Grammy history



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